Leadership is Central to the Organizational Success of Libraries

Pamela Haley


A review of:

Mullins, John, and Margaret Linehan. “The Central Role of Leaders in Public Libraries.” Library Management 26.6/7 (2005): 386-96.


Objective – To provide an understanding of the concept of leadership as perceived and practised by a group of international public library leaders, thereby contributing to the existing body of literature on this topic.

Design – Qualitative study employing in-depth, face-to-face interviews with 3 subjects and 27 e-mail interviews based on 30 structured questions formulated from a review of the literature.

Setting – Nottingham and Rotherham, two cities in th Public libraries in Ireland, Britain, and the east coast of the United States during 2003/04.

Subjects – Thirty senior public library leaders.

Methods – Thirty top level library leaders, 50% of whom came from outside Ireland, were selected based on the following rationale concerning their institutions: have a history of providing publicly funded public libraries; are under-researched; and, accessibility for the authors. Irish librarians were chosen based on their national profile, geographic convenience to the researchers, and availability/cooperation. Only library leaders or deputy leaders were considered. Interviews for 27 candidates where scheduled via e-mail and 3 were arranged through face-to-face meetings. Participants were asked 30 structured questions drawn from the current literature on leadership. Responses were recorded electronically and later transcribed for analysis via a grounded theory approach that categorized the data. This method of analysis endeavours to provide theory based on research observations that begin from qualitative data and then go through a process of sifting and categorization, which leads to a hypothesis.

Main results – Nine broad categories emerged from the "grounded theory analysis." The paper deals with only 1 - the central role of the library leader. In response to queries by the authors, 67% (20) agreed that leadership took precedence over all other factors as a determinant for organizational success. Ten (33%) disagreed and were evenly split as to their reasons. Five said it was an important factor, and five felt leadership did not take precedence over other drivers of success. The study reveals that leaders do have an impact in determining organizational culture, with 63% saying the leader determines the culture, and 37% stating the leader only contributes to the culture of an organization. National cultural differences affect this point of view, for example 73% of the Irish public librarians, 60% of the British public librarians, and 40% of the American public librarians stated that it is the leader rather than the staff who determine organizational culture. Another core finding reveals that not all CEO's are leaders and not all librarians are leadership material, which points to the need for more classic leadership training.

Conclusion – Based on the study's findings, the authors hypothesize that leadership is a central component in the strategic and operational practices and success of public librarianship. Transformational, rather than "leader centric" methods of leadership encourage growth of organizational change and success.

Full Text:


DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18438/B8688D

Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (EBLIP) | EBLIP on Twitter